The World

Six months later, Puerto Rico still struggles to recover

Nearly six months after Puerto Rico was pummeled by Hurricane Maria, the media seems to be quieter than ever about the situation on the island. Granted, news coverage and public concern were sparse when the hurricane first besieged the island in September; the Trump administration was notoriously sluggish in its relief efforts, and Trump spent most of his time tweeting offensive things about San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, instead of promising adequate aid or showing any genuine concern.

Now that Puerto Rico is slowly recovering, there are still many questions and concerns about how to move forward, who is still affected by the extensive damage, and Puerto Rico’s future as residents leave the island. Although, by some reports, Puerto Rico is getting back on its feet, there is still a long road ahead.

What’s the situation with the electricity?

An ongoing issue has been the lack of electricity on the island, and the slow process of repairing the electrical grid. According to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, around 75 percent of people living on the island had working electricity again. Of course, that statistic is from February, but another account shows that as recently as December, half of the island’s population was still without power. Still, more rural areas will not have power until the end of May. Being without electricity is especially dangerous for the elderly, sick, and impoverished, because of the difficulty in cooking, cleaning, and receiving adequate medical treatment. At this time, close to 200,000 people still have no electricity.

What is the official death toll?

It was originally estimated that 64 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria, but the Center for Investigative Journalism released a report in December that puts the actual number of deaths over 1,000.

How much aid is Puerto Rico receiving?

President Trump signed a disaster recovery package in February that allocates $16 billion in federal aid to the island, although Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello originally asked for $94.4 billion. $4.9 billion will help sustain Puerto Rico’s Medicaid system and $11 billion under the Community Development Block Grant will be put toward repairing the electrical grid, homes, and businesses.

What about FEMA?

A large issue that many residents are facing is the difficulty of receiving aid from FEMA. In Puerto Rico, many people do not have the deeds or titles to their homes because they have built their houses on property owned by friends or relatives. The transactions have been sealed verbally, so there is no legal paperwork to show. Other homes have been built in squatter communities, with no permits. FEMA has rejected 60 percent of the 1.2 million applications for FEMA’s Individual and Household Grants and a large reason is due to “applicants’ inability to verify that they own the homes for which they are claiming damage.”

Has tourism bounced back?

According to the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC), tourism is slowly making a rebound, and over 125 hotels were open for business as of February. In fact, the PRTC is encouraging travelers to consider Puerto Rico, as tourism can bring an influx of money to local restaurants and other businesses.

How many people have left the island, and how many more are expected to leave?

Over 200,000 Puerto Rican residents left the island for Florida alone after Hurricane Maria, and Puerto Rico’s government estimates that another 200,000 may leave before the year is up. People fled the island to Florida, Texas, and New England in the wake of the disaster, and while Hurricane Maria was definitely a catalyst, it is worth noting that unemployment has been high in Puerto Rico in recent years, and many people point out that the hurricane was the final nail in the coffin for the island’s population, where nearly half live below the poverty line. Puerto Ricans left, and continue to leave, in search of schools for their children and better job opportunities on the mainland.

All in all, the circumstances in Puerto Rico are still difficult – and seemingly overlooked by those not living on the island. Vulnerable communities, such as women, the elderly, the sick, the disabled, and the impoverished face harsh repercussions after natural disasters. Medical resources are already slim due to the (until recently) power outages, and sickness, injuries, and lack of money and/or transportation can further hinder those needing medical attention. Even leaving the island completely is a form of luxury; one must have enough money for a plane ticket, or tickets, to the mainland or elsewhere.

Without a doubt, Puerto Rico is in better shape than it was six months ago. It is not fair to overlook the progress the island has made, lest we fall into the patronizing, unhelpful pit of white saviorism. However, we still need to work to keep Puerto Rico in the news and on our politicians’ radars. We must keep speaking out about Puerto Ricans’ needs because the aftermath of Maria is still playing out for millions of people every day.

By Lauren Jones

Lauren Jones received her BA in English Literature from Marquette University. She is interested in reproductive justice, intersectional feminism, and domestic violence. She loves decaf coffee and hates the patriarchy.